Sketchfactor App Comes Under Fire for Promoting Racism

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Last Updated: Jan 18, 2016

If you do not know, SketchFactor app s a new app that uses crowd-sourced data from users to provide safe walking direction as well as pinpointing “sketchy” areas. It also uses public crime data from trusted sources. The app was launched on Friday to help New Yorkers stay ‘safe’ while in the streets.

The idea behind the app is to prevent the users from bumping into some people with questionable characters and also to identify areas that are risky.

The users will alerts describing the area where they are. For example, one alert read, “There’s a homeless shelter or something that houses the poor here. The residents hang out front and never bother anyone, but it’s uncomfortable as you pass an otherwise nice area.”

This and other comments have landed the app’s founders Daniel Herrington and Allison McGuire into trouble.


Many people consider the comments to be racist with one headline saying that white people create terrible apps to avoid sketchy areas. Another comment was suggesting that there is an app for those who want to avoid black neighborhoods.

The founders have not responded to a request to comment on such sentiments, though on their website they refute such claims. They say that SketchFactor can be used by anyone regardless of their racial background.

The app is an investment worth thousand of dollars and it is a finalist in a city sponsored Bigapps competition.

SketchFactor is not the first app to be hit with the racism label neither is it the first app to aim at crowdsourcing information about the areas in which users live.

Another app called GhettoTracker came under attack last autumn not just because of its name but also because of labeling certain areas as ghetto. Critics said its name was offensive.

GhettoTracker just took into account the users’ feedback but had no official data on crime rate. The outcry led its founders to change it name to Good Part of Town. This app did not last long, within a short time, it disappeared altogether.

Microsoft has suffered the same attack when it was granted a patent for technology that would allow it to incorporate crime data in its Bing maps to help provide users identify safe walking directions. People dabbed it the “Avoid Ghetto GPS Patent.”

Successful apps are those that have focused on specific communities. A good example is Nextdoor which is a special private social network that allow users in specific neighborhoods to communicate about their local issues.

This has been successful because it helps the communities to report crime and also work with the police. The communities accept such apps because they address their needs rather than making them feel discriminated against or being labeled as poor or living in the ghetto.

As Peter Pena, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute puts it, “Technology is only as good as the people who form part of its developer and user community.”

It is now a just a matter of waiting to see how far SketchFactor will with this racial tag that it has been branded with.

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